How to ask questions

Last edited time
Last updated October 18, 2022
As an engineer in a company, you are surrounded by people who know things that you don't! These people are an amazing resource, if you know how to use it well. The basic trick is this:
People want to help you, but you must show them respect. You are asking a favor; be polite.
Here are some tips on asking respectfully and politely so you are more likely to get help:
  1. Make a reasonable effort to figure it out yourself before asking. This shows the recipient of the question that you're taking responsibility for your own problem rather than dumping it on them. What is "reasonable" depends on the context, but at least
    1. search in internal wiki, codebase readme
    2. search on Google
    3. try to narrow down the problem as best you can.
    4. ask someone else on your team.
  1. Ask in an appropriate forum. This shows that you respect others' time by trying not to waste it. If you're not sure, take your best guess and ask for a pointer—"can you help me with X or point me to someone who can?"
  1. Ask in a public forum before asking privately. This avoids interrupting someone, and avoids making them solely responsible for your problem; and it leaves a searchable archive for the future.
  1. Be specific—rather than saying "X doesn't work", say what you tried, what you expected, and what happened. This shows that you respect the people's time and cognitive resources, and helps you get an answer more quickly.
  1. Give some context about what you're trying to do. Quite often the solution to a problem is to do something totally different, but the subject can't suggest it if you don't tell them your high-level goal.
  1. Be brief. This shows your coworkers that you respect their time.
  1. Be appreciative. When someone helps you, say thank you; don't just drop the thread. This shows you appreciate the time they've given you.
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